The purely choral ensemble from England, Tenebrae, specializes in harmonizing in large spaces having much echo. Something that masonry cathedrals have in abundance, and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis has in extreme abundance. Their members stealthily move around the space for different songs. Some hiding behind the Baldacchino on the altar, some in the narrow gallery, which surrounds the entire space, high up near the domes of the ceiling. It’s acoustic trickery, but the effectiveness of this trickery can be quite stunning. I had been listening to this group performing around Europe for some years. One can get a glimpse of what they are trying to accomplish over the computer screen, but the actual effect is mostly lost. That would explain why they do less of it on their recording sessions.

Emotions, complicated and unpredictable they often are. Their summoning, their vigor, even their flavor, can be sometimes loosely bound to the situation one might be facing. If they have a purpose, and they probably do, it would appear that they are the broad desires and urges that guide us towards love, caring, the desire to nurture, expression and accomplishment. Of course, they have a sadder side, which, just like the ones typically rated as desirable, also comes in many flavors. All are generally inevitable. Sometimes, just the volume of emotions, in different flavors, simultaneously, is the cause of powerful feelings. Happy and sad, all muddling together. I like this. I like to feel. I like big feelings, sometimes. It does depend on the flavor mixture, though. It can be quite bad, at times.

I am leaned back in my wheelchair, I quickly realize that there is more going on in my head than I had bargained for. The voices of Tenebrae choir were able to fill that massive space completely, making full use of the echos coming off of domed ceilings, along with the stunning imagery in candlelight – these were the things that I had expected, though not quite in such abundance. The powerful trigger that I had not counted on: I am also looking at the stained-glass windows above that upper gallery that surrounds the Cathedral. Memories, stored by the way many different neurons hold hands with each other, flood back in a torrent, for I had installed these windows, all of them. This project was done by my father and brother and myself, back when I was not yet quite twenty years old. I had spent a good little chunk of my young life working up there. It was a large project that was hard, enjoyable, tedious at times, exciting at times and threatened to be my last, at times. I had returned to this giant space on more rare occasions, through the years yawning across my career since, repairing mosaics, installing the Crest out front, in preparation for Pope John Paul II’s visit, but I had largely forgotten my once intense connection, until now.

This figurative flash flood brings a lot of debris all with it, churning in the water, much the same way as a flash flood roaring down a desert canyon. The sticks and logs, churning in the water of my newly released memories, were details of much of the work that I had done with, and since, my father – much as he had done, with his father before him… as did his father before him. The furthest back of this lineage, being one who started the mosaics in this Cathedral in the first place.

There were also sad emotions floating in this debris. The bishop I was talking to before the music started, could not have been nicer, or more pleasant, but it was apparent that the rest of the world had forgotten most of my life’s work, also. I know this is true for most all people, in time, and that I have no more to complain about than the next person. Facing this now, however, when one’s mind is sharp, but one can no longer plow and plant new ground, is a little bit of a jolt.

People often attribute “my life flashed before my eyes” with near death experiences. The evening I thought might be my last, many months ago, did not have these deep or philosophical musings. At that time, everything just felt quite hollow… petty… rather void of emotions. I don’t know if residing in that emotional desert was helpful in that near death moment, or not. What I would say, however, is that it’s not a place where I would want to spend much time in.

Tenebrae Choir Concert, St. Louis Cathedral

Luckily, I returned to my natural state of being. Late in the program, they sang a rather soft and hypnotic song, repeating the word, “sleep, sleep”. I had to grin while imagining the custodian opening the doors the next morning to find a church full of people still ‘sawing-logs.”

Only the tops of the windows we replaced in the early nineteen-nineties are visible.
The new Coat of Arms to adorn the entranceway of the St. Louis Basilica, in preparation of Pope John Paul II’s 1999 visit. – at our studio. Designed by my father, made by my father, brother Stephen and myself. Installed by… me.

Growing Up in a Factory (please don’t call DFS)